What’s an ultrasound scan like?
There are two main scans that are offered for pregnant women, one is the 6-12 weeks dating scan and the other is the 20 weeks anatomy scan.
Whilst some health care professionals offer both, others may only offer the 20 weeks scan as standard. However you can have many scans carried out privately.
Some services also offer a nuchal fold scan that is usually carried out between 10-13 weeks gestation. Talk with your health
care professional to find out more information about the scans on offer in your local area.
Most pregnancy scans described here are carried out using ultrasound. Your sonographer will put a little bit of gel on your
tummy and then move a small hand-held device called a transducer over your skin, which sends an image of your baby to a screen. You may be asked to have a full bladder for some of your scans as this will help push your uterus upwards and forward and create a clearer picture.
Types of scans
Early pregnancy scans
If you are unsure of your conception dates or your health care professional has any concerns you may find you’ll have an
early scan somewhere between six and ten weeks. This pregnancy scan is usually carried out using a small probe that goes
inside your vagina, to get as clear a picture as possible, as your baby will be so tiny at this stage.
This type of scan is a simple procedure but it’s natural to feel a bit worried about it so speak to your health care
professional – they should be able to answer any questions you have about it. Remember the scan is to check that your baby is
OK, which can make for a far less stressful pregnancy for you!
This will give you a fairly accurate due date for your baby’s arrival and assesses several important details:
- The age of your baby
- Check the heartbeat
- Whether there is more than one baby
- Whether there are any obvious abnormalities
- Whether your ovaries are in healthy condition
The scan lasts around 10 minutes during which time images of your baby will be taken. Seeing your baby on the monitor is
such an exciting experience and many parents often feel quite emotional too at this moment. You’ll be given a printout and
photos to take home with you (some hospitals charge for this), which you can show to your loved ones so they can share in
your excitement too.
Nuchal translucency (NT) scan
This test is an ultrasound scan and is not considered a risk to your baby. If your health care professional suggests you
have this test, it will usually be done between the 11th and 13th week of your pregnancy. Some mums-to-be may chose to have
it done in a private hospital at their own expense. Speak to your health care professional for your options.
A Nuchal fold scan gives a risk assessment of your baby, based on the mum-to-be’s age, the thickness of the nuchal fold at the back of your baby’s neck, your baby’s nasal bone and a blood test, in some circumstances. It is important to understand that this
scan is a screening test and not diagnostic. It can only give you a statistical probability of either being classified as a “low” or “high” risk group.
In some cases you might need to take further tests such as an amniocentesis test. You and your partner will be able to
discuss this fully with your health care professional.
The mid-trimester pregnancy scan is one that most mums and Dads feel excited about – not only because it’s a real milestone but also because your baby will be looking less like a vague shape and more like a real baby! You could even find out if you’re having a boy or a girl, though, if you’d prefer a surprise at the birth you can ask them to keep it from you. It takes around 15-20 minutes and most hospitals and clinics will let you buy pictures taken from the scan.
This scan is usually offered around 20 weeks. It allows the specialist to check your baby from head to toe, so they’ll look at:
- Your baby’s head to check for any brain problems or cleft lip/palate
- The spine and abdomen to see that everything is aligned and developed
- The size and shape of your baby’s heart
- The stomach, which you should be able to see below the heart. You might be able to see some of the amniotic fluid your
baby has swallowed – it will look like a black bubble in their tummy!
- Your baby’s kidneys and bladder
- Your baby’s hands and feet – although the specialist probably won’t count the fingers or toes
- The placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic fluid
- The measurements of your baby’s head, abdomen and thigh bone to ensure that they are growing equally well
If there are any signs of problems, you’ll most likely speak with a specialist and may be offered another scan.
Growth scan during pregnancy
This ultrasound scan checks that your baby is growing and developing healthily. They’re only usually carried out if there
is any concern about your baby’s growth.